Nathan and the Zydeco Cha Chas Papa Mojo’s Roadhouse Durham NC 2/11/12
Nathan and the Zydeco Cha-Chas
Papa Mojo’s Roadhouse
Durham N C
Feb 11, 2012
By Grant Britt
Nathan Williams doesn’t just stand on a stage- he owns it. And even if the venue has no stage, Williams presence fills up the room. At Mel Melton’s Papa Mojo’s s Roadhouse in Durham Saturday night, Williams and his band, the Zydeco Cha-chas, had the windows rattling with his hard-driving mix of blues, rock, Cajun and Creole music known as Zydeco.
Standing on the bare floor in the small room in a strip mall in Durham, decked out in his big black cowboy hat and sunglasses, Williams transported his audience to a sweaty Saturday night throw-down that felt like you were percolating in a steamy roadhouse deep in bayou country. Mixing tempos and genres from the hard-driving Zydeco drenched soul of his take on Otis Redding’s “Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Sad Songs” to Boozoo Chavis’ rattly Cajun classic “Paper In My Shoe,” Williams kept the dance floor full of energetic and enthusiastic fans writhing in ecstasy all night long.
Williams’ band is a tight-knit mix of family and seasoned vets. Brother Paul has been the band’s guitarist for over a decade, cousin Mark, on rub-board, has been with the band since Williams cranked it up in ’88. Hard hitting drummer Herman Rat Brown, who played with Buckwheat Zydeco for years, is a long time Cha-Chas vet. Brown is a no frills percussionist who hits his snare with a resounding thwack like a pistol shot. He keeps his kick drum anchored by a bungee cord to the kitchen chair he sits in to play so that the drum won’t slide away away from the terrific big foot stomp he keeps up all evening.
Nathan is a grinning ambassador for all things Louisiana. He keeps saying that in his home town of St Martinville, “even the crawfish have soul.” Over the evening’s performance, he switches from diatonic to piano to button accordions, strolling though the crowd as he plays, stopping to squeeze off a blast of hot licks in an adoring fan’s face before strolling back to center stage in the middle of the dance floor. He alternates a syncopated take of “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In” with Archie Bell and the Drells ’68 hit “Tighten Up,” rips off a frenetic version of king of Zydeco Clifton Chenier’s “Zydeco Boogaloo,” and finishes with a rousing version of Lee Dorsey’s New Orleans classic “ Sitting In La La.”
On a freezing night in Carolina, Nathan Williams’ show was a lively antidote for cold feet, the hot spot for a lively brand of music that doesn’t get round to these parts often enough.
photos by Grant Britt